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Actor Lara McDonnell on learning to fly for Artemis Fowl

As elvish police officer Holly Short, the Irish actor had to convincingly fly to help bring the popular kids' fantasy series to the big screen in Disney's 2020 live-action adaptation.

From left: Nonso Anozie, McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in Artemis Fowl.

This story is part of I'm So Obsessed (subscribe here), our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.

Irish actor Lara McDonnell has worked with an impressive array of thespians, including Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Colin Farrell, Josh Gad, Cillian Murphy, Jonathan Pryce and Lilly Collins. She's played a young Anne Brontë in a story about the famous writing sisters, and the precocious and gifted Matilda in a musical version of Roald Dahl's classic story. 

Not bad for a 16-year-old. 

Her latest project is a starring role in Disney's live-action adaptation of Artemis Fowl, based on the popular eight-book series written by Eoin Colfer about a rich, young genius who's also a budding criminal mastermind. When his father goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Fowl discovers a hidden, high-tech fantasy world run by fairies, dwarves, trolls and elves, including Holly Short, an up-and-coming reconnaissance officer for the Lower Elements Police (LEPRecon). Short, played by McDonnell, is kidnapped by Fowl and held for ransom, but she eventually pairs up with the smart young human to help find his father. (CNET reviewer Corinne Reichert called Artemis Fowl a "fun action movie for kids" but said she prefers the book.)

"Holly Short is an elf police officer who is one of the many people Artemis encounters when he meets the fairy world -- the two worlds collide, and chaos just breaks loose," McDonnell said in an interview from her hometown in Dublin, for CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast series.

She admits to reading the entire series when she was 10, largely because she loves fantasy novels, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Percy Jackson series. Holly, she says, was her favorite character because she's not "the traditional fairy you think of. She's very much a police officer in the world, and they have their technology, which is much more advanced than ours ... Holly is heroic and she's witty and she's rebellious and she knows her own mind."


Lara McDonnell

Mark Nixon

I asked McDonnell about working with director Branagh on the film (released on Disney Plus in June), about the acting advice she received from Dench, and about her favorite part of playing a young, 84-year-old elf. The answer: learning how to fly -- with wires on set. "Not many people get to say that they have learned how to fly," she says. "I was able to learn how to tumble and incorporate gymnastics into my flying. And that was definitely a highlight for me."

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She also told me about her obsession with musical theater, which led her to play the title role of Matilda in the West End production, and about her dream of one day playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.  

Listen in to my entire conversation with McDonnell on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. You can also subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Patrick Holland and I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about work, career and current obsessions.